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Britti Guerin's debut album navigates the hardship and triumph of finding your voice

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

How do you make a dream reality? Singer songwriter Britti Guerin might have some ideas. The Louisiana artist's debut album begins by recognizing that struggle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO TIRED")

BRITTI GUERIN: (Singing) So tired - Mama said it won't be easy. So tired - what Mama said was right, believe me. So tired - Lord, if she could only see me. So tired...

ELLIOTT: Her album, "Hello, I'm Britti," navigates the dreams, hardship and triumph of finding your voice. And Britti joins us now from New Orleans. Welcome to the program.

GUERIN: Why, thank you. Hi, guys. Good morning.

ELLIOTT: So in that song, "So Tired," it sounds like you're really going through it. We're going to get into your backstory in a moment. But I'm wondering how you're feeling now that you finally have your first album out.

GUERIN: It's feeling amazing, surreal at moment - truly just a dream come true.

ELLIOTT: It was a long time coming for you.

GUERIN: (Laughter) Absolutely. It's funny because as a kid, you see artists or listen to artists and it feels as the observer that it's happened for them overnight. And then actually being in the shoes of the one emerging in the artistry, it definitely didn't happen overnight (laughter). But it's been lovely. I love the journey, and I'm excited to continue on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO TIRED")

GUERIN: (Singing) When my fear is faded, I'll be feeling safe and warm. There'll be no hesitating 'cause I'm finally feeling sure. So tired...

ELLIOTT: You're from Louisiana. You were born in Baton Rouge, and you've lived there in New Orleans, in a place that is just so rich when it comes to music. Did you always know you wanted to be a singer?

GUERIN: Always. Truly.

ELLIOTT: How so?

GUERIN: My mom, still to this day, she'll tell me, as if it's the first time, that I've always sang as a child. I would sing for food, before I even knew how to speak words, in gibberish. I think it was just one of those things where I just was born to sing.

ELLIOTT: Were you surrounded with music as a child?

GUERIN: A hundred percent yes.

ELLIOTT: What kinds?

GUERIN: It's a little bit everywhere. I always kind of describe it, pun intended, gumbo - a gumbo of genres. But I grew up raised by my grandmother and my mother. And depending on the person that I was with in my immediate family, I would always have the chance to groove to different music. So with my grandmother, it was a lot of zydeco, a lot of blues, a lot of Motown. With my mom, it was a lot of, like, soul and R&B. With my uncle, it was jazz. With my grandfather, it was classical and R&B.

ELLIOTT: I want to listen now to a little bit of this song, "Nothing Compares To You." It evokes a certain classic stage element. I think the press material for your album named Sade. And I can see it - this sultry, captivating storyteller whose emotions focus your attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOTHING COMPARES TO YOU")

GUERIN: (Singing) Silent movies, foreign beauties - doesn't truly matter what comes my way. Whole lot of letters lost forever, guilty pleasures - even those dreams, they fade. 'Cause nothing...

ELLIOTT: So tell me your approach to writing a song like this. Is this about telling a story, or are you just trying to grab people's attention?

GUERIN: Oh, everything is about telling a story. This whole album is a love letter, and every single song is a chapter. And so "Nothing Compares To You" is really paying homage to how much New Orleans is my home. This is the place that I've discovered myself. It's the place that I've had my heart broken. It's the place that I've had my heart mended - just all the human experiences that one could have. And so nothing compares and will ever compare to the city of New Orleans.

ELLIOTT: Tell us how you connected with producer Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys.

GUERIN: OK. Well, miracles happen. I'm still in awe. He ended up discovering me on Instagram. And Tom Osborn, who runs Easy Eye Sound for Dan Auerbach, reached out to me under one of my cover videos that I had recorded.

ELLIOTT: So you went to Nashville and worked with Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys to produce this record, and I feel like I hear a little bit of Nashville influence in a few of the songs - one of them, "Keep Running."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KEEP RUNNING")

GUERIN: (Singing) I keep running 'cause it's so hard to hear. I keep running so I don't have to fear. When they're right behind you and they're bound to find you, I keep running, I keep running.

ELLIOTT: Tell us about this song and where it comes from.

GUERIN: That song is about if you don't stop, then you don't have time to realize all that you need to work on. And so, you know, it's just easier sometimes just to keep going and moving. But then it gets to the point where it's like, by now I'm tired of running.

ELLIOTT: I thought a really pretty song on this album is "Silly Boy."

GUERIN: (Gasping) No one's mentioned that one yet. You're the first person. Thank you. How sweet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SILLY BOY")

GUERIN: (Singing) Silly boy, I ain't no toy. I'm no pawn in your game.

ELLIOTT: So it sounds like you're speaking directly to this guy. Does this come from a real place?

GUERIN: It all does. You know, before this album was written, I went through deep heartbreak. And I wouldn't change it for the world because I got some (laughter) - I got some really healing songs out of it that I pray help other people cope and heal.

ELLIOTT: You hear all kinds of musical influences throughout this album, as we've talked about, but the one I really enjoyed - got me moving a little bit - is "There Ain't Nothing." It feels like it's got a little bit of New Orleans, a little bit of Memphis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE AIN'T NOTHING")

GUERIN: (Singing) ...Broken heart. There ain't nothing like when you get cut to the bone. No, no, nothing - no, you don't know nothing until you do it on your own. Now don't it feel better when you finally get to heading back home?

ELLIOTT: Now you're back home. You've got this album out. How does the feeling of home resonate with you now that you're in this place in your career?

GUERIN: I'm hugging New Orleans, and it's squeezing me back.

ELLIOTT: That's Britti Guerin, whose new album "Hello, I'm Britti" is out now. Thank you so much for being with us.

GUERIN: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE AIN'T NOTHING")

GUERIN: (Singing) There ain't nothing like when you get cut to the bone. No, no, nothing - no, you don't know nothing until you do it on your own. Now don't it feel better when you finally get to heading back home? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.